Interactive, Online, Adsorption Lab to Support Discovery of the Scientific Process

Friday, 19 December 2014
Kenneth C Carroll, A L Ulery, Barbara Chamberlin and Adam Dettmer, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, United States
Science students require more than methods practice in lab activities; they must gain an understanding of the application of the scientific process through lab work. Large classes, time constraints, and funding may limit student access to science labs, denying students access to the types of experiential learning needed to motivate and develop new scientists. Interactive, discovery-based computer simulations and virtual labs provide an alternative, low-risk opportunity for learners to engage in lab processes and activities. Students can conduct experiments, collect data, draw conclusions, and even abort a session. We have developed an online virtual lab, through which students can interactively develop as scientists as they learn about scientific concepts, lab equipment, and proper lab techniques. Our first lab topic is adsorption of chemicals to soil, but the methodology is transferrable to other topics. In addition to learning the specific procedures involved in each lab, the online activities will prompt exploration and practice in key scientific and mathematical concepts, such as unit conversion, significant digits, assessing risks, evaluating bias, and assessing quantity and quality of data. These labs are not designed to replace traditional lab instruction, but to supplement instruction on challenging or particularly time-consuming concepts. To complement classroom instruction, students can engage in a lab experience outside the lab and over a shorter time period than often required with real-world adsorption studies. More importantly, students can reflect, discuss, review, and even fail at their lab experience as part of the process to see why natural processes and scientific approaches work the way they do. Our Media Productions team has completed a series of online digital labs available at virtuallabs.nmsu.edu and scienceofsoil.com, and these virtual labs are being integrated into coursework to evaluate changes in student learning.